Falling significantly behind Wisconsin in a college basketball game is kind of like trailing big against a football squad that excels at ball control. Only a perfect set of circumstances will allow for a successful comeback.
Penn State learned that lesson the hard way at the Jordan Center Wednesday night, allowing the No. 5 Badgers to build double-figure leads in both halves before cruising to a 55-47 win.
They really grind you down, Lion coach Pat Chambers said. When they get a lead, like 10 or 16, it's really like 20 or 30. They really milk the clock, they really share the basketball. They have a lot of good players.
PSU has a good player, too. D.J. Newbill was close to perfect for the Nittany Lions (15-12, 3-11), with more points (a game-high 29) and field goals (13) than the rest of his teammates combined. But his lone significant miscue proved just how slim State's margin for error really was.
After trailing by as many as 16 (46-30) in the second half, the senior guard led a spirited charge that drew Penn State within 48-43 following a Geno Thorpe layup with 4:08 to go. Then Jordan Dickerson blocked Badger center Frank Kaminsky's shot in the lane, and PSU had the ball and chance to creep even closer.
The Lions ran a high ball screen for Newbill -- which has been their bread and butter all season -- only to see him trip over teammate Ross Travis' foot and lose the rock.
The error hit at the worst possible moment. Kaminsky came away with the ball and was fouled in the lane at the other end. He made both shots and State would not get closer than seven the rest of the way.
It was Newbill's only turnover of the night, and one of a season-low six committed by PSU.
It's amazing, Chambers said. I don't know what happens in the last four minutes of games.
The bigger problem in this game, however, was what happened in the opening minutes of both halves.
Wisconsin built its first big lead fairly early, as Kaminsky showed his versatility (and why NBA teams like him so much) with a 3-pointer, a driving slam and even an assist to Sam Dekker for another trey en route to a 19-8 margin.
For PSU, it didn't help that Newbill was the only Lion who showed up offensively, especially early in the game. He scored State's first dozen points, and the Lions did not get points from anyone other than him until Brandon Taylor made a triple with 5:04 left before the break.
State got as close as 24-21 on two Newbill free throws at the 2:28 mark of the first half before Wisconsin pulled away to lead 31-24 at intermission. The Badgers made only three baskets in the last 12:29 of the half but were still up. At one point, they went nearly eight full minutes while only scoring two points, but still led by six.
That's amazing, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Wisconsin controlled things for much of the second half, going up 46-30 on a Bronson Koenig jumper with 8:51 showing. Again Penn State fought back. Again Newbill did most of the damage.
The key is we didn't want to let anyone else get hot, Ryan said. Fortunately they didn't.
Boy, did the rest of the Lions NOT get hot.
Of the 10 Penn Staters who played, seven had three points or fewer and five did not score at all.
Taylor had seven for the Lions despite playing with a sore knee and Thorpe added six. Rookie guard Shep Garner was held scoreless for PSU and was 0 of 9 from the floor.
I've said this since the non-conference, Chambers said. We're not going to be the best team we can be if (Newbill) has to score 30 every night. It's too much pressure and too much stress on one man. Other guys have to make plays and make shots.
BADGER STARS SHINE
Ryan didn't exactly get a balanced scoring effort from his team, either.
Dekker had a career-high 22 for the Badgers, while Kaminsky had 16, and Nigel Hayes pitched in with nine points and 13 bounds. The rest of the squad combined for eight points.
TRAVIS MOVES UP
Travis finished with eight rebounds to give him 768 for his career. He passed Gene Harris (762) for third on PSU's all-time list. No. 2 (Mike Lang, 912) is out of reach.
Amazing stat of the night: Newbill either scored or assisted every point PSU scored in the first half. Penn State had 21 field goals in the game, and only five assists. The Lions had zero assists on 11 baskets in the second half. Of Newbill's 13 field goals, only two came off assists.
Penn State is at Northwestern Saturday for a 3 p.m. tip. The game can be seen on ESPNU.
The two teams have not met this season and are essentially tied for 13th place in the conference with three wins each. The Wildcats have won two straight after losing 10 in a row.